Newsbrief: Illinois DA Makes Woman Meth Poster Child 3/14/03

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Pekin, IL, is a small town, and Penny Wood is finding out the hard way. Last month, Wood, a long-time methamphetamine user with previous convictions facing up to 30 years for drug conspiracy, agreed as part of a plea bargain to allow before and after images of her to be used as part of Tazewell County State's Attorney Stewart Umholtz's personal war on speed. "It was to be used for drug education purposes only, to keep kids off drugs," Wood told the Chicago Tribune this week. "Because that picture would. If that picture doesn't shock a child, I don't know what will." (Visit http://www.tazewell.com/states%20attorney/meth_flyer.html to view the paired images.)

But while Wood thought her anonymity would be protected and the images not widely disseminated, that has not been the case. She has been the butt of jokes on local radio stations, her grandchildren have worried aloud that the photos will show up at their schools, and the enthusiastic Umholtz has had them posted at the local Boys & Girls Club, the probation office and on his web site. While Umholtz has abided by his agreement not to release Wood's name, local newspapers have not felt bound to honor that agreement.

Now Wood wants it stopped and is threatening a lawsuit, but Umholtz is unmoved. He told the Peoria Journal the plea agreement did not specify how the photos would be used, and besides, they effectively scared kids away from meth, he said.

"I have no problem trying to help keep people off drugs because it really ruined by life completely," said Wood, who is currently on probation. "But they went about it wrong. I've paid for my mistakes. I don't want my grandchildren paying for my mistakes."

While the before and after photos of Wood are certainly sobering, they are less so than the fact the State's Attorney Umholtz is able to threaten someone with 30 years in prison on a drug charge, then turn around and hand out probation in return for a pair of pictures.

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